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PEI potato-growers turn to crowd-funding to save family farm

David Best, shown in a frame grab from his Youtube video about Best Acres Farm.


David and Brian Best, father and son potato farmers on Prince Edward Island, are using the crowd-funding site Indiegogo to try to raise $200,000 in a desperate attempt to save their family farm.

"This is like the last straw," says Brian Best, 44, in the video posted on the website explaining their plight and plan. "And we are going to pull it because we are fighting for the family farm."

For nearly 80 years, the Bests have farmed near Tryon on PEI. But this is the first spring in 55 years that David Best, 73, has not planted potatoes on the 400-acre farm. He started farming with his father, Jerald, when he was 18.

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"When I see the weeds growing and we're not planting, it's kind of hard to take," David said in an interview Tuesday. "It's hard on the blood pressure."

The Bests' story is not unique. PEI potato farmers are struggling: Prices for fresh or table potatoes have dropped nearly 40 per cent from last year. There has also been a series of bad seasons – too much rain, not enough rain, potato warts – that have forced some farmers to get out entirely. Consumer tastes are changing, too, with low-carb diets giving potatoes a bad rap and time-strapped families picking quicker meals.

Banks and other lenders, the Bests say, will not give them any money to begin planting. It costs them about $1-million a year to run Best Acres Farm before they make any profit. The family – Brian's younger brother, Dale, is also involved in the business – grows fresh or table potatoes, and also potatoes for processing and seed.

In 2008, the Bests lost about $500,000 because there was too much rain, swamping fields and severely damaging potato crops across the island. How they are dealing with their situation, however, is unusual.

"When you're in a box you've got to get out, you've got to think, you've got to broaden your thinking capabilities," Brian said. "We're in a crisis situation here."

While selling their farm was not part of the equation, it was difficult to admit they were in trouble, he said. "We're proud of what we do. We don't want to look like complete failures. People like to be strong."

Two weeks ago, the Bests came up with their plan. Two islanders – Perry Williams, who owns a video production studio, and retired journalist Doug Millington – shot and edited the nearly five-minute video for free.

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Mr. Millington had heard about the Bests' situation from a mutual friend. "Brian can strip a '52 Chev engine with his eyes closed," but setting up the website and Facebook was all brand-new to him, Mr. Millington said.

Brian recalled the story last year of a female bus monitor in New York, who was taunted by middle-school children. A Canadian man started an online fundraiser for her and managed to raise more than $600,000 in three days.

"I believe that people like to give to a good cause," he said. "That's just the nature of people …"

They posted their video on Monday, and are hoping to raise the money by August. Certain perks are built into a donation: $20 gets you the secret recipes for cinnamon buns and biscuits of David's wife Heather; $500 gets you a farm stay.

"The reason why Mom and I worked this long was for the boys," David said, "and hopefully they will be able to take it over and make a respectable living. That's all we ask. We're not asking for something big."

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